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Tony Grist

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Anything But... [Jun. 17th, 2012|09:54 am]
Tony Grist
Judy has a side job tutoring little Korean kids and she just read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi with one of them. Now she wants to expand his knowledge of Kipling by adding Gunga Din, Recessional and The White Man's Burden.

No, no, no, no!  Look, personally I'd be prepared to defend all three, but it's no use pretending they're not problematic. If you wanted to dismiss Kipling as irrelevant and racist (as many have done and still do) these are the texts on which you'd base your argument. ("Lesser breeds without the Law" for pity's sake!) How about substituting Danny Deever, or Follow Me 'Ome (gay subtext) or Mary Pity Women (as feminist as anything you're likely to harvest from the 1890s).

Or one of the poems from the Puck books.

Or Mandalay or Ford O' Kabul River (The first rule of international politics is don't invade Afghanistan, you fools!)

I've got a long car journey ahead of me today and I can see I'm going to be spending it riffling through the Collected Kipling I keep in my head.

PS. I expect to be offline for a couple of days, so if I don't reply to comments it's not (just) because I'm rude and ignorant.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: huskyteer
2012-06-17 08:51 am (UTC)

Ooh, The Law of the Jungle! That's a great one.



Edited at 2012-06-17 03:21 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: veronica_milvus
2012-06-17 10:33 am (UTC)
Or "You're a better man than I, Gunga Din".
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-06-17 10:44 am (UTC)
Kipling's appalling racism and cultural chauvinism is precisely what makes him so vitally important in understanding British history and culture. In comparison, "Mandalay", despite being one of my favorite poems, is just so much Orientalism.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-19 09:54 pm (UTC)
You see, I completely disagree. Kipling was an imperialist, but neither a racist nor a cultural chauvinist. He was the first British author (possibly the first European author) to write with sympathy, empathy and real knowledge about the world "East of Suez".

Nor was he an Orientalist. He was born in India. He knew the East. Mandalay isn't Orientalist, it's about Orientalism- a significant difference.

Edited at 2012-06-19 10:04 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: michaleen
2012-06-20 12:24 pm (UTC)
Are you seriously suggesting that "The White Man's Burden" isn't racist? I'll grant that Kipling may not have been a racist personally, but I think it's extremely difficult to argue that there aren't racist elements in his work.

I shiver every time I think of the phrase, "Great Gawd Budd".
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-20 09:46 pm (UTC)
Kipling believed in the superiority of Western Civilization. I'm not sure that's quite the same as being racist. "The White Man's Burden" makes me squirm but it's one of the few things in his oeuvre that does.

As for "the great Gawd Budd", don't forget the poem is a dramatic monologue. This isn't Kipling speaking, but an ignorant ex-soldier. Elsewhere- in Kim for example- Kipling wrote sympathetically and knowledgeably about Buddhism.
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[User Picture]From: daisytells
2012-06-17 10:44 am (UTC)
I endorse "The Jungle Books" and "Kim".
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[User Picture]From: steepholm
2012-06-17 12:08 pm (UTC)
How little are these little kids? The Just So stories are a possibility, I suppose?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-19 09:55 pm (UTC)
They certainly should be.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2012-06-17 02:13 pm (UTC)
The poems that accompany the Just So Stories are wonderful -- especially the one about getting the hump, just like the camel. With its useful moral lesson (quotation approximate):

The cure for this ill is not to sit still
Nor to frowst with a book by the fire
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also
And to dig till you gently perspire.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-19 09:56 pm (UTC)
Oh yes!

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[User Picture]From: ron_broxted
2012-06-17 02:32 pm (UTC)
"Tales from the Raj". As a now deceased IRA volunteer said to me in 1990 "Kipling is Thatcher's favourite author".
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-19 09:59 pm (UTC)
Was Thatcher a reader? I doubt it.
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2012-06-17 04:06 pm (UTC)
I've got a long car journey ahead of me today and I can see I'm going to be spending it riffling through the Collected Kipling I keep in my head.

I'm just going to be singing him all day now. Thank you very much!

My knowledge of Kipling started with the Just So Stories and The Jungle Book, which may have been problematic in all their varying ways, but one of the earliest things I can remember wanting for myself (from a store on Church Street in Harvard Square that no longer exists; my father used to take me there to look for presents for my mother) was a little china turtle that would someday, like the little china hedgehog I wanted to place next to it, turn into an armadillo.

And then years later when I discovered he was a real poet, it just made me happy.

How about substituting Danny Deever, or Follow Me 'Ome (gay subtext) or Mary Pity Women (as feminist as anything you're likely to harvest from the 1890s).

I thought of "Tommy." We're still not very good at treating our returning soldiers right.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2012-06-18 11:24 am (UTC)
I have a pair of earrings, custom-made for me, with a hedgehog, a turtle, and an armadillo on them. They aren't a matched pair but complement each other beautifully.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-19 10:02 pm (UTC)
Lovely!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2012-06-19 10:15 pm (UTC)
I went much the same route. Kipling is a writer who has been with me since I was very little.

Kipling's stories and poems about soldiers and soldiering are the best we've got. I reckon he goes deeper and broader than Owen or Sassoon or any of the poets of the Great War.
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